GAITHERSBURG, Md. (AP) - With some experts warning that a
terrorist attack using weapons of mass destruction is inevitable,
public safety personnel around the nation's capital are stepping up
their training.
Hundreds of them from four Maryland counties, as well as rescue
experts from Fairfax County, Va., came together Tuesday for a drill
simulating a dirty bomb attack at a crowded auto show. The drill
was conducted at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg,
Md., about 35 miles northwest of Washington, D.C.
Fire departments throughout the Washington area are now treating
any unusual explosion as though it might be a dirty bomb containing
toxic chemicals or radiological components. The drill was designed
to help responders hone the skills they would use if such a weapon
is ever used.
"It's important that we train for these types of events because
with the threat level swinging back and forth something like this
could happen at any time," said Montgomery Fire Chief Tom W. Carr.
The drill began with the release of a presumably toxic cloud,
followed by two subsequent explosions which sparked fires.
Civilians made up to appear as thought they had suffered from blast
and burn injuries could be seen laying on the ground in a field
behind a shopping center. Adding to the drama was a very real - and
unexpected - car fire.
Evaluators from federal, state and local public safety agencies
and military agencies walked amid the feigned chaos, observing the
performance of those involved. Montgomery County Police also
mobilized some officers to respond to ongoing threats included in
the scenario.
"An anonymous caller called our 911 center and said there would
be another attack while this was going on," police spokesman Capt.
John M. Fitzgerald said of the drill, which was monitored by
jurisdictions from throughout the region.
"This type of attack would undoubtedly prompt a "Code Red"
alert throughout the region and perhaps nationally," Fitzgerald
said.
The drill is the latest in a series of exercises being held
across the nation. The District of Columbia government is planning
a similar exercise this summer.
"These drills remind us that things can get very bad, very
quickly, they keep us from getting complacent," said Cpl. Rob
Moroney, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)